Law vs. Ethics: Conflict and Contrast in Laws Affecting the Role of Libraries, Schools, and Other Information Intermediaries

Publication Title

Journal of Information Ethics

Publication Date


Document Type



Law, ethics, libraries, information


Library and Information Science


Law and ethics or a sense of professional responsibility are not always aligned. A characterization of the disconnect falls into one of two broad categories. At times, the law may not go far enough in achieving an ethical or professional response, at other times the law goes too far and forecloses a response based on ethical principles or professional responsibility. In the instance of the latter, ownership or control rights often conflict with other rights such as access to information, privacy, or a general sense of free speech. Where the law does not go far enough an opportunity arises for gentle intervention through education and awareness-raising. The law can, however, be said to align with principles or responsibility, and while not perfect leads to a more harmonious and desirable response. Along these three characterizations (not far enough, too far, and just about right) the role of the information intermediary such as a library or school is examined. In addition, the characterization is assessed in three subject areas: copyright, privacy, and free speech. The discussion results in further opportunity for reflection on the purpose and role of law and preferred or professional responses.